Monks Spread Peace at Library

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by Julia Perkins, courtesy of Newstimes

A monk walked around a board decorated with a multicolored sand design, ringing a bell. The estimated 300 patrons at the Mark Twain Library (CT) inched closer, trying to get a last look at the mandala art, which featured symbols from different religions, the American flag, the Buddhist flag, the library’s logo and the words “One World, Keep Peace.”

The monk picked up pieces of the sand and put them in a glass carried by another monk, ringing the bell again. He used a tool to create lines through the sand at each side and corner before the other monks moved forward with brushes in hand. The audience gasped as the monks swept away the sand, destroying the design so only the carvings of the symbols remained on the wood.

“Let it go with a long breath,” the monk said as the crowd sighed with him. “We’ve done it a long time, so no emotion here because we can rebuild it.”  “I have to learn that,” a woman in the crowd said.

The monks had been working on this design since Wednesday, but destroyed it in a ceremony Sunday afternoon to symbolize one of the main tenants of Buddhism: impermanence.

Geshi Dhargey, a monk from the Tibetan Buddhist Center for Universal Peace in Redding who guided the Indian monks who worked on the mandala, said the art form is meant to spread peace. This was stressed throughout the ceremony with monks and patrons repeating the phrases, “One world, keep peace” and “May all be kind to each other.”

“We all need peace, but we’re missing what is the method, what is the wisdom we need for peace?” Dhargey said.  The Mark Twain Library is one of five places in the country to host a mandala ceremony this year.

The library has been planning the event for several months as part of its Hermes Art Series, but library President Jen Wastrom said it came at the perfect time, providing healing for people after the presidential election.

“To have had this program start on Wednesday morning at 10 when there was such confusion and a mix of emotions was an extraordinary blessing for each of us and for the library to be able to share with the community of Redding,” she said. “There were so many tears in here, and then you just watch this beautiful thing all week and everyone’s fear kind of melted away as we fell in love with this entire notion.”

Wastrom said she was not sure how she would react when the design was swept away.  “Last night, I was a little worried about saying goodbye to it, but today I embrace impermanence,” she said.

Southbury resident Robert DellaCamera brought his two kids and one of their friends to the closing ceremony after his son saw the monks working on the mandala during a field trip earlier in the week.  “It was very peaceful, very sweet,” DellaCamera said. “It was good for the kids too see it, to experience a different culture.”

Maggie McIntire, adult program coordinator, said she hopes patrons get a better understanding of diversity after watching the ceremony. The idea of impermanence is important in Christianity, not just Buddhism, she said.

“It kind of shows we’re not that far apart. We have similar beliefs,” she said. “Also I just thought it was a great message of not having attachment, seeing something so beautiful and then having it swept away. It was pretty emotional. I ended up tearing up. But you’re supposed to use your head, not your heart, and know that things fade away and pass.”